“Innovative Approach” Helps Land Akin Gump’s Labor and Employment Practice as a Law360 Practice Group of the Year

A “series of impressive victories” helped place Akin Gump’s labor and employment practice among Law360’s 2013 Employment Practice Groups of the Year. The firm was selected for its ability to “fend off challenges to Starbucks Corp.’s tip-splitting policy, convince two federal appeals courts to enforce Ernst & Young LLP’s individual arbitration agreement in proposed wage class actions, and get the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's suit over the Freeman Co.’s hiring screens tossed.”

Bob Lian, head of Akin Gump’s labor and employment group, tells Law360 that, even with its relatively small size, the practice has been able to stand out among its peers because of its ability to help clients “looking for a novel and creative approach to a significant and potentially problematic case.”

This includes defending Starbucks against a pair of appeals in New York’s highest court alleging the company’s tip-splitting policy was unlawful. Lian says the rulings could become “markers for the rest of the employer community” in that they could have “a significant impact on whether employers in the same industry will wind up seeing more litigation.”

The article also noted two significant victories for Ernst & Young last year, thanks to the efforts of Akin Gump. In the first, the Second Circuit held that the Fair Labor Standards Act does not prohibit the enforcement of a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement. The Ninth Circuit enforced the company’s arbitration agreement in a similar case. Lian noted “the decisions on the arbitration issue that the firm secured for Ernst & Young are really going to be important over all on the broader legal issue.”

In the EEOC case, Akin Gump’s lawyers won summary judgment and dismissal of a suit brought by the commission against Freeman, claiming the company’s use of job applicants’ credit histories and criminal convictions had a disparate impact on African-American, Hispanic and male job applicants. Lian described this win and the others as instances in which the firm took “a fearless approach to challenging legal issues and to not accepting that the way things have always been done is the way that they should be done or must be done.” He added that Akin Gump uses “a novel and innovative approach that accepts the reality that we're going to be making law in many cases.”

This honor follows Law360’s recognition of Akin Gump partner Daniel Nash as among its 2013 employment “MVPs.”

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